Homelessness: An ignored community issue

by Mark Segal

You most likely thought I'd be talking in this column about the race for president but I'm not. This column is instead about a subject close to my heart: our homeless LGBT youth and homeless transgender people.

It's a subject I've been involved with since 1969 and my days in New York City with Gay Liberation Front. So why write about this now during a heated presidential race?

Simple question, simple answer.

Have you heard either presidential candidate speak about the homeless problems in our LGBT community? You might ask, "We have a big homeless problem in our community?" Yes, we do and the two segments of our community to be most affected are youth and trans people. Both are the most endangered populations in our community, yet at times our own community doesn't seem to care enough to do anything about it.  We're so fixated on middle-class issues.

Let me use my own city as an example. In Philadelphia, there is a struggling home for our homeless called LGBT Home for Hope. The home was started last year by Sakina Dean, with programs run by Deja Lynn Alvarez, a local trans woman. Home for Hope was started from the pocket of Dean and Alvarez is fighting to get funding; when that fails, it comes out of their own pockets. In short order, they rented a building, have attempted to house and feed our homeless and set up programs to help them with education, employment and other social issues they face.

The small project has grown to the point that Home for Hope now houses more than 30 individuals at any given time and it really needs more room. The building and services need upgrades, but it is a start, and you would think most caring people would pitch in to assist and make it better. But many in our community walk away, perhaps because they think the people who access services at Home for Hope do not portray the right image for our community.

Upon hearing about the issue at a summit, I helped arrange for U.S. Sen. Casey to send a task force to see what can be done on a federal level. After hearing about the daily plight of the lack of funding, Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams  office put out a collection and representatives of the office brought bags and baskets of food and supplies to Home for Hope. Others from the state have also been attempting to get the gears moving.

Here's the simple point: City departments must pitch in and help Home for Hope. It needs funds, the team needs a helping hand of volunteers and a system to get it on the right track to move forward.

In 1969, as the 18-year-old president of Gay Youth New York, I often took in homeless to get them off the streets; so did Silvia Rivera when she had a place to stay. She, as you may know, started Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries, the nation's first trans organization. Our fellow GLF members helped with funding out of their pockets.  Wouldn't you think that, 47 years later, we would have progressed a little further in caring for the most endangered in our community?

Mark Segal is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. His best selling memoir "And Then I Danced, Traveling the road to LGBT Equality" was just named Book of the year by The National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association. 

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